THE two main church aid organisations in Germany, Caritas and Diakonie, have joined forces with the German Red Cross and federal and regional emergency aid authorities to help people in the severely flooded areas in the south-western parts of the country. On Thursday of last week, rivers and streams burst their banks after long periods of heavy rain, causing widespread destruction, making thousands of people homeless and causing 200 deaths in Europe (News, 16 July).
By Wednesday morning, there were more than 170 dead in Germany, and many more were still unaccounted for. Luxembourg, eastern Belgium, and the southern parts of the Netherlands are equally badly affected. On Tuesday, Belgium held a national day of mourning.
“It is shocking that the flood disaster in the west of Germany, with its long-lasting consequences, is bringing so much suffering and despair to the people,” Ulrich Lilie, the President of Diakonie, the social welfare organisation of Germany’s Protestant Churches, said this week. “It is now a matter of quickly helping all those who have lost their homes and livelihoods and cannot get out of their predicament on their own.”
Diakonie and the Roman Catholic organisation Caritas have joined forces with the German Red Cross to call for donations. Many German companies have made large donations, amounting to millions of euros, while some local companies are allowing their workers fully-paid time off work if they want to volunteer and help with the relief efforts.
Caritas says that colleagues on the ground are working closely alongside the flood victims everywhere, providing emergency aid. “Volunteers are distributing food in the hardest-hit places, providing psychological counselling, and, elsewhere, are accommodating people from other institutions in Caritas hospitals and homes for the elderly.”
They are there “to help people rebuild their homes”, the website says. “Emergency aid is provided in the form of small amounts of one-off lump-sum cash grants, or to help with filling out applications for assistance. In addition, the provision of dryers and pumps to remove flood damage from buildings is also possible.”
The Diakonie of Rhineland-Westphalia-Lippe has formed an internal crisis team to support diaconal institutions and church congregations in the affected areas in their relief efforts.
The Archdeacon of East, Germany and Northern Europe, in the diocese in Europe, the Ven. Dr Leslie Nathaniel, said on Tuesday: “The diocese in Europe chaplaincies of the Church of England are raising awareness about contributions and donations towards flood relief.”
He said there had been prayers said in the different C of E chaplaincies all over Germany for people who had lost everything, and those who had lost loved ones. Anglicans were not directly affected except for a few flooded cellars. The C of E Rheinland chaplaincies were part of the Working Group of Christian Churches, which was kept up to date about the situation.
As mopping-up operations got under way this week, and more missing people were discovered dead among the rubble or in their cellars, there was widespread criticism of the failure of early-warning systems on the night of 14-15 July. Some called for a return to battery-run sirens and the tolling of church bells.
As modern early-warning systems failed on that night in Beyenburg, near Wuppertal, local papers reported that Brother Dirk, a member of the Order of the Cross in the Steinhaus monastery, alerted the Beyenburger population by tolling the Sturmglocke, the emergency storm bell that has been in place as a warning system since the Middle Ages. Beyenburg was heavily flooded, and it is thought that Brother Dirk saved lives.
On Tuesday, the Chancellor, Angela Merkel, promised the people in the flooded areas fast and unbureaucratic emergency aid. On her second visit to flooded areas this week, this time to the badly damaged village of Bad Münstereifel, in North Rhine-Westphalia, she said that she hoped that it would be a matter of days before aid was made available by the federal government. At the same time, she made it clear that reconstruction would take much longer than a few months.
Experts said this week that in one of the hardest hit areas in Rhineland Palatinate, the vast Ahr river valley, 40,000 people had lost their homes, and it could be weeks, if not months, before electricity and water infrastructure were restored. Roads, motorways, and bridges are expected to take much longer to repair.
On Tuesday, Deutsche Bahn, the German railway network, announced that seven regional railway lines, with tracks covering 600km in the two affected federal states, were so badly damaged by the water that they would have to be rebuilt completely or at least extensively renovated.
In his sermon on Sunday in the Bavarian town of Ippesheim, the Chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, recalled the suffering caused by an “unprecedented flood”.
He continued: “Property and belongings have been lost. People have been traumatised by the sudden power of the water. What had been built up over a long period of time was destroyed. And, in the flooded towns and villages in the West, many people have died or are still missing.”
He called for solidarity with the people in the disaster areas: “We want to stand by those who have now been hit by such terrible hardship. We want to pray for them. We want to grieve with them where irreplaceable personal belongings have been lost, or where they have even lost a loved one. We want to be a helping hand to them wherever they need us.”
He said that the flood-donation accounts would be used to ensure that no one suffered material hardship as a result of the flood disaster. “We are not leaving anyone alone now.”